A bipartisan bill designed to stimulate research into marijuana was reintroduced on Wednesday—with changes that could significantly increase its chances of passage in the 116th Congress.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), wouldn’t change the federal legal status of cannabis, but it would require the Justice Department to approve additional manufacturers of research-grade marijuana, protect research institutions interested in conducting studies on cannabis and authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to inform patients about federally approved cannabis studies that they can participate in.
While the legislation was approved by a voice vote in the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee when it was introduced last year, several Democratic members of Congress and drug reform advocacy organizations voiced opposition to language in the bill that would have barred people with “a felony or drug-related misdemeanor” from manufacturing marijuana for research purposes.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), now the chair of the committee in the new Democratic Congress, voted against the bill last year, saying the legislation at the time “unfortunately and unjustly expands the collateral consequences of criminal convictions.”
But that language was stripped from the new version. Instead, only individuals with “violent felonies” on their record would be excluded from participating.
“This bipartisan legislation will make a tremendous difference to researchers nationwide, who may finally be able to develop cures for illnesses that affect many of America’s most vulnerable populations,” Gaetz said in a press release. “I fully believe that this bill has a chance to pass this Congress and be signed into law by the President, who expressed his support for medical cannabis during his campaign.”
For too long, Congress has faced a dilemma w/ cannabis-related legislation: we cannot reform cannabis law without research—but we cannot perform this critical research without first reforming cannabis law. My legislation, the Medical Cannabis Research Act, helps break that logjam
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 16, 2019
So far, four cosponsors have signed their names onto the bill: Reps. Darren Soto (D-FL), Ken Buck (R-CO), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), and Diana DeGette (D-CO). The prior version of the legislation ultimately garnered 44 cosponsors during the last Congress.
The bill initially came about after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions blocked the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from making good on its promise to approve additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes. Since his departure, the DEA has reiterated that it’s actively reviewing manufacturer applications.
The Gaetz bill, if enacted, would force the attorney general to begin issuing new licenses on a set timetable.
The Medical Cannabis Research Act, which I introduced today, will make a tremendous difference to researchers nationwide, who may finally be able to develop cures for illnesses that affect many of America’s most vulnerable populations—veterans, the chronically ill, & the elderly.
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) January 16, 2019
Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Office of National Affairs, told Marijuana Moment that the organization is “pleased that Rep Gaetz has revised his bill to remove the provisions that prohibited personnel with convictions for a felony or drug-related misdemeanor from working on marijuana research.”
However, the group takes issue even with the scaled-down ban on people with violent felony convictions from working on cannabis research.
“There is no sound reason to include such language in a marijuana research bill, and such bans only serve to exacerbate racial disparities that permeate our criminal justice system,” Adesuyi said. “That said, we have received a commitment from the Gaetz office that eliminating the ban completely is a change they support and would be happy to make.”
Other changes to the bill include 1) increasing the required number of additional marijuana manufacturers from three to four, 2) extending the application deadline for Justice Department approval for manufacturing licenses “until enactment of this Act” and 3) eliminating a requirement for a “letter of reference affirming the manufacturer’s good standing” from state health care and law enforcement authorities.
Drug policy reform groups had also objected to the language in the previous bill regarding that last point because police groups often oppose marijuana law reform.
“The goal with these changes is to increase the number and diversity of federal manufacturers of cannabis for research purposes, ensure fair treatment of employees and to increase the applicant pool to ensure robust competition and high-quality applicants,” Gaetz’s legislative director wrote in a Dear Colleague letter seeking cosponsors for the bill.
The Congressional Budget Office said that the previous version of the legislation would have a “negligible” effect on federal spending.
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Medical Cannabis Research Act by on Scribd